There is no reason to beat around the bush. For anybody who buys games regularly, or for anybody who enjoys a good puzzle game that can and should be slowly completed in small doses, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is worth the asking price. Nintendo has successfully extrapolated lasting gameplay from the handful of Captain Toad mini-games found in the also excellent Super Mario 3D World and while the game has a few confusing issues and never goes beyond what it is, Treasure Tracker is a delightful, charming, and creative puzzler.
The premise of Captain Toad is about as complicated as it needs to be. The heroes, Captain Toad and Toadette both love treasure, both love getting captured, and both love saving each other. While the impetus of the main baddie kidnapping the main character is more than a little worn out, it was at least refreshing to see Toadette have a turn at being a hero and Captain Toad have a turn at being the damsel in distress. But, as is usually the case in a Nintendo game, the story is mostly there to establish a motivation and a villain and it does that sufficiently.
Gameplay, as is once again typical for Nintendo, is the star. Captain Toad does not break new mechanical ground, nor are its puzzles so creative that it will change the way gamers look at the genre, but the game is bursting with personality and polish, and enough secrets to make even the most seasoned veterans take pause. Neither Captain Toad nor Toadette can jump (in fact, they control identically) and even their run is not too much faster than their walk. Doing what they do best, Nintendo matches the level design to the style of the gameplay so that players must instead rely mostly on observation, planning, and experimentation rather than the fast-paced twitch-based finesse of something like Mario Galaxy 2 or Super Mario 3D World. The ability to zoom in and rotate the camera are abilities best used regularly, and players will often be rewarded for interacting with the gamepad via touch or blowing into the microphone.
While the gamepad is a far more exciting and useful piece of gaming technology compared to the Wiimote, Captain Toad‘s push for its use is not as convincing as games like Game & Wario or even Wind Waker HD. First, while using the gamepad’s gyroscope to take a look at the levels can be immersive and engaging and occasionally even feel more natural than using the right analog stick, its usefulness reaches a hard limit when one realizes that a full 360 degree rotation is required to look at a level from every angle. This is hardly convenient to do while sitting down and the game’s otherwise slow and thoughtful nature is at odds with the idea of standing up to play. An option to freeze the camera to readjust the gamepad’s position (similar to lifting a computer mouse to the other side of the mousepad) would have been very helpful, as would an option to turn off the gyroscope all together, especially when an unexpected camera move can disrupt the playing experience and even cause a character’s death.
Speaking of, the choice to base Treasure Tracker off a traditional “lives” system is a little confusing to me as well. Part of the joy of the game is going back to try and obtain all the collectibles and complete all the optional objectives and sometimes these tasks require experimentation. Dying on a level already comes with the consequence of restarting the player’s progress (excepting the collection of the three optional gems), so running out of lives seems like an unnecessary element present only for the sake of tradition.
But these are minor issues in the face of the colourful world, the satisfying secrets, the lively animation and sound design, the varied level types, and the large dose of bite-sized content available in Captain Toad. This is not a game to rush through, but rather a game to enjoy in small and satisfying doses, whether the player is collecting the many pieces needed for completion by meticulously beating the conditions for every level before moving on to the next, or if he decides to do what he can on his first attempt with plans to return at a later time. Captain Toad does not mind either way, it just hopes the player is having a good time.
Treasure Tracker is a pretty game with Nintendo’s trademark colourful and bubbly-looking worlds, filled with glistening water, tubes, and collectibles. However, its best promotion of the use of the gamepad is how perfect the game is for viewing on the smaller lower-resolution screen. While it does not look as graphically strong on closer inspection, being able to inspect the puzzle worlds more closely on the gamepad is often the preferable choice while playing and that frees up the television for roommates or family members to use without complaint from the player.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is not Nintendo’s next Mario Galaxy 2, Super Mario 3D World, or Skyward Sword, but it does not have to be. It is consistently creative, eventually challenging, and most importantly, always fun. Players will have to observe and explore their environments closely to complete the game and as such, Nintendo has breathed a lot of life into the little cubed puzzle worlds. The game is a delight to play and as long as players know what to expect, it is a well worthy addition to a increasingly appealing Wii U software lineup.
Full disclosure: the author was provided with a free copy of the game for review purposes.